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Research Projects

Nanomechancial mapping of aortic cross-sections

PI: Gunjan Agarwal

Understanding the mechanical properties of biological tissues at the micro and nanoscale is important to interpret their response at the sub-cellular level.  The REU student will learn the basic principles and practice of atomic force microscopy (AFM) for biomechanics. Students will use AFM to measure the spatial distribution of stiffness across healthy aortas and ones with aneurism.

Higher order assembly of DNA nanostructures mediated by depletion forces

PI: Carlos Castro

This research involves design of DNA origami nanodevices with precise shape and tunable mechanical properties for applications in force sensing. The REU student will learn how to fabricate and assemble DNA nanodevices into higher-order systems by use of crowding reagents. He/she will explore what types of ordering are achieved over various concentrations of DNA nanodevices and crowding reagent size and concentration by performing transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging and micro-rheometry analysis.

Biomechanical analysis of ocular lens aging

PI: Matthew Reilly

The stiffening of the ocular lens with aging is considered to be an important factor affecting vision loss. The REU participant will design, conduct, and analyze in-vitro experimental models of lens aging to study the underlying mechanisms of lens stiffening. This will require the participant to learn skills related to dissection, biochemistry, rheology, dynamic light scattering, spectroscopy, micro-rheometry, operation of custom mechanical instrumentation, computational modeling, and data analysis.

Biomechanical analysis of the optic nerve head

PI: Jun Liu

The tissues and structures inside the eye are constantly under the influence of a fluctuating intraocular pressure (IOP). In the disease of glaucoma, IOP is elevated and leads to axon damages at the optic nerve head. To understand the effect of IOP on optic nerve head, the REU student will perform mechanical testing of optic nerve head using a biaxial tester and analyze tissue elastograms using our custom ultrasound speckle tracking algorithm. He/she will analyze the strain maps using linear mixed models and build mechanical models to elucidate the deformation patterns and factors influencing the deformation of the optic nerve head.

Osmotic pressure effect on intervertebral disc deterioration

PI: Benjamin Walter

Low back pain is associated with degeneration and structural deterioration of the intervertebral disc (IVD). The osmotic environment of the IVD has been proposed as an important parameter governing the biologic response of the embedded cells. The REU participant in this project will perform and analyze experiments to measure the osmotic pressures that develop within IVD tissue at multiple (micro and nano) spatial scales. The participants will learn how to apply physical principles of chemistry to biomechanics, and gain experience in advanced microscopy techniques, statistics, and design methodology.

Evaluating microenvironmental effects promoting aortic valve calcification 

PI: Lakshmi Dasi

The REU student will participate in research involving experimental and computational fluid dynamics to understand calcification of aortic valves. The students will be learn how patient specific characteristics can be utilized to improve the design and performance of bio-prosthetic valves for aortic valve replacement.

Understanding the role of cell-mechanics in Acute Lung Injury

PI: Samir Ghadiali

The participant will be involve in characterizing cell-scale mechanical properties using atomic force microscopy, evaluating cell injury and inflammation via molecular biology tools and developing testing protocols that can evaluate the effects of different therapies on lung mechanics.

Biomechanical role of vitreous humor in ocular growth and age related diseases

PI: Katelyn Swindle-Reilly

This project involves design and characterization of biomimetic polymeric materials for use in ophthalmology. For instance to develop injectable hydrogels we need to examine the visco-elastic properties of the hydrogels as well as that of the vitreous humor. Similarly, knowledge of how cells in the cornea and lens respond to polymers used as intraocular lenses will enable us to optimize the mechanical properties of the materials to promote healing. The REU student will learn techniques such as dynamic light scattering and macro-rheology for these analysis.

Micro-engineered model of the tumor stroma

PI: Jonathan Song

To investigate how cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs) reprogram the physical microenvironment of tumors, we have developed a micro-engineered model. By using this model we can reconstitute the tissue-level function of the tumor stroma in vitro and assess how CAFs modulate parameters like vascular permeability, extracellular matrix (ECM) permeability and solid stress.  The REU student involved in this project will develop skills such as microfabrication, stromal cell and ECM biology, confocal reflectance microscopy, and quantitative image analysis.  

Mechanobiology of engineered skin

PI: Heather M. Powell

Understanding the role of cell-cell communication in response to external mechanical stimuli is critical to both tissue development and repair.  In this project, the REU student will first learn how to engineer human skin with varying levels of interdigitation between the epidermal and dermal layers.   They will then stimulate these tissues with external mechanical forces and examine how the shape of the interface alters tissue response.

Computational and experimental studies of mechanically induced changes in cell morphology

PI: Keith Gooch

The REU student will learn the basis of agent-based modeling in the NetLogo platform and then modify an existing model of cell-matrix interactions to account for the changing of biomechanical properties with the maturation of focal adhesions.

The role of mechanical load  in modulating inflammatory  pathways  associated  with chronic low back pain

PI: Devina Purmessur (Walter)

To investigate the causes of chronic low back pain, this project aims to evaluate spinal structures i.e the intervertebral disc (IVD) as a “whole organ system” together with extra-spinal cells and tissues.  We have designed a custom made in vitro Bioreactor system where IVD cells in 3D hydrogels can be subjected to both dynamic and static loads simulating the physiological mechanical micro environment of the healthy and degenerate IVD. The REU participant will perform primary 3D cell culture experiments using this Bioreactor system to investigate cell and molecular interactions with independent variables of loading magnitude and frequency, IVD cell type and disease state, together with dependent variables of cell biosynthesis, metabolism, inflammatory/pain predictors and matrix stiffness.

Spectrin-based pathways for mechanotransduction in heart

PI: Tom Hund

The REU student will learn basic cell culture and then plate cardiac fibroblasts on commercially available polyacrylamide substrates of various stiffnesses. Students will learn immunostaining and western blots and use these to characterize the expression and spatial distribution of spectrin and STAT3.

Bioinspired materials for on-demand drug releasing

PI: Yi Zhao

The REU students will participate in the design and synthesis of bioinspired smart materials that allows for on-demand drug releasing. In particular, they will learn electrospray and electrospinning technologies, characterization of the morphology and mechanical properties of soft materials, and the measurement of drug-releasing of microscale drug carriers.